Messa – Close Review

Three albums into their career and few bands are as enigmatic and interesting as Messa. Starting life as a progressive doom act, Messa always played fast and loose with genres and styles, layering doom, sludge, ambient, and cabaret jazz influences in the madman’s lasagna and adroitly blending spices to make something captivating and otherworldly. On third album Close, the ambient elements have faded away but the doom-meets-cabaret-meets-whatever style is still present, with the overall sound ending up more expansive and airy. Strong traces of The Gathering‘s epic opus Mandylion now dot the soundscape, and 70s prog rock ideas course underneath the long, rangy compositions like veins of oil. Moods meander from sleepy and subdued to harsh and frenzied, and somehow the journey almost always has an internal logic and feels right. Skilled operators that they are, Messa know what they’re doing here.

Opening salvo, “Suspended” features everything I love about the band. Its unhurried, minimalist style oozes emotion, with bare-bones doom riffs vibrating below the exquisite vocals of enormously talented frontwoman, Sara. Her delivery is sultry, raw and powerful, rising and falling with the throes of the song and elevating things to the nth degree. Slight nods to the Windhand formula are present in the sparse, stripped-down construction, but Messa is its own monster, as the abrupt detours into cabaret jazz plainly reveal. It shouldn’t seem so natural and seamless, but it is. “Dark Horse” is much more upbeat and 70s rock-oriented, with much in common with the latest from Jess and the Ancient Ones. I won’t get into who wears it better, but it’s another knockout full of seething energy and dynamic writing. I even detect vague hints of Sad Wings of Destiny era Judas Priest in its DNA along with more Mandylion mana.

“Pilgrim” is a huge set piece, clocking in at 9:26, and Messa make the most of it, dabbling in Middle Eastern and Flamenco influences for a dark, dreamy drift through time and space. Dirty stoner doom riffs surge to the fore eventually, plowing the road for Sara’s powerful vocal delivery, and the way she chants and beckons in the quiet spaces strongly recalls the eerie piece “Scorpio’s View” that Lalo Schifrin composed for the Dirty Harry soundtrack back in the 70s.1 This is Messa operating at peak awesome, and it’s a stunning piece of music. Sadly, there are some lesser moments present on Close. The album’s longest cut “0=2” is definitely good but not great, and it’s the rare Messa track that feels way overlong. I do love that crazy saxophone freak out that arrives on the back-end, though. The inclusion of a strange 45-second blasting grindcore/war metal track dubbed “Leffotrak” feels very out of place and the way it arrives after a long sleepy march through “If You Want Her to Be Broken” is jarring, to say the least. Putting the album’s two longest tracks back-to-back was a questionable choice as well, and at an hour and 4 minutes, Close feels overlong despite the high quality of much of the material. Several songs could be trimmed by a minute or more as well. The production is generally fine but at times when things get busy it starts to sound muffled and clipped (especially on “Rubedo”).

As with the prior albums, the Messa sound is highly dependent on the wondrous vocals of Sara. She has a beautiful, versatile voice capable of bending and twisting to suit the various moods the music explores. She’s become one of my favorite vocalists across all genres and she once again shows herself to be both a titan and chameleon, effortlessly slipping from doom rock wailing to cabaret jazz crooning. Hell, I’d listen to her sing commercial jingles for used car dealerships and personal injury attorneys if that was all she was releasing. The band behind her is formidable as well. Guitarists Alberto and Mark Sade lay down tasty doom riffage as well as seriously impressive jams, and their creative genre experimentation makes Close pulse and crackle with raw energy. Mistyr lends an impressive kit performance, swinging from doom grinding to smooth jazz subtlety and all the weird spaces in between, showing how versatile he is. Add some well-placed saxophone and duduk lines courtesy of Giorgio Trombino and you have some spicy music to savor.

Close is another enigmatic offering from Messa that leaves the listener all sorts of treasures to uncover. It has truly transcendent moments that’ll give you goosebumps, and a few that feel much closer to the ground than usual. It ultimately falls just shy of brilliant, but it’s a captivating, enthralling experience nonetheless. This is a band you should always make a point to hear, and I suspect Close will grow on me like moss as the year unspools.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart
Websites: messaproject.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/messaproject
Releases Worldwide: March 11th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Old Man Huck rightly noted references to the cinematic work of Ennio Morricone appearing on the album as well.
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